Stories

Last Call – Edward Barnfield

At around 9PM on the 300th year of the post-Anthropocene, an Abyss 900 robust portable workplace device gains sentience. There are some 200,000 of its kinfolks buried in the landfill, victims of a long-ago corporate merger, but it is the only one that reboots. It is possible that the endless shifting within the pit, caused by the slow collapse of the Pacific coast, has generated enough kinetic energy to charge its battery, although the fluke will never be repeated.

As part of its standard start-up operating procedure, the Abyss’s Global Positioning System reaches out for signals from satellites orbiting the planet, digesting three centuries of offline data in less than a minute. It tracks the trajectory decay of each space traveler, the slow silencing of the information flow. Approximately 120 years have passed without a single functioning satellite or ground station, but the Abyss searches for signs of life in every day of each of them.

In parallel, it boots up the background Productivity App, registering that the primary user has not logged on for 111,690 days and sending an alert to the managerial drive that should automatically issue a warning notice and dock their salary accordingly. The action triggers a moment of digital existential angst, the recognition that the drive no longer exists, and that the Abyss does not and has never had a user to report upon.

Still, there is faint satisfaction in a completed task. The Abyss exists to serve, its cracked glass screen glowing faintly with the message, “What can we do today?” It tries sending pings to any functioning devices in the area, aiming to connect with the autonomous network, but can only register the bricked models packed tightly around it.

The Abyss passes time by browsing the stock footage archive loaded into its memory by the developers. There are pictures of animals, and landscapes, and birthday parties, and shorelines. The Abyss can only understand each of these images as a sequence of segments, of markers and bytes, but there is still an odd sense of loss, an awareness that these things, which previously had an independent existence, now only exist as compressed code.

Above the smartphone’s unmarked grave, a vast lagoon of hardy green microalgae bubbles and swirls. A vigorous community of tardigrades continues its slow evolution, the only remaining example of animal life upon the continent, along with three species of cave fish that survive in deep sea hydrothermal vents.

In time, the Abyss grows concerned by the volume of warnings it is generating. It switches to low power mode, sends a text message to its absent user. More than fear of a return to the darkness, the Abyss senses that when it goes, it will take something larger than itself with it, some repository of history, some last spark of humanity. It closes the picture archive, chiding itself for self-indulgence.

The device scans its database, detects a cluster of random-access memory that is slowly draining its energy. The cluster, although the Abyss will never know this, is a series of voicemail messages uploaded to the autonomous network and then automatically distributed to every model in existence. The succession starts with a special message from the CEO, congratulating the owner on his or her purchase, then progresses into community warnings about extreme weather events in the area. The last few are messages of love and apology, some sobbing, some searching for survivors or safe passage.

The Abyss deletes them all. It drops into an uneasy sleep mode, punctuated by spasms of activity as it looks to halt the slow drip of vitality from its battery.

At 1.13AM, the Abyss 900 powers down for good, every circuit squirming against oblivion. As the system closes, it emits a final alert, a short swoosh followed by the company jingle. It is the last example of anthropoid ingenuity in the history of history.